Presumption: On jumping off the temple roof
By Loren Seibold | 21 December 2021 |
A few months ago an acquaintance went on a rant on social media about why he wasn’t going to take the vaccine, and how foolish (indeed, anti-Christian) were those who did.
He had done “research,” he said.
Now, when I think of research, I picture a laboratory with glassware and microscopes and (nowadays) high tech equipment for reading DNA sequences.
Or at least some crunched public health data.
My acquaintance’s research was of a different kind—the kind you can do while sitting on the toilet with your mobile phone. His “research” was that he had consulted other “researchers” who in fact had done no original “research” either, except for uninformed misreadings of data they didn’t understand, interpreted by their own opinions. A few of his sources have names that begin with “Dr.,” which he assumed meant that they knew more than millions of other physicians and researchers.
The vaccines, this man now could say with certainty, were proven to be dangerous by someone, for some reason. Uninformed speculations about how they were made convinced him that there were horrible impure things in them that would indubitably kill millions in screaming agony. (That millions with the vaccine haven’t died in screaming agony didn’t seem to dissuade him.)
As a Seventh-day Adventist, he knew that his following his version of the health message would provide him with natural immunity. He also had some God-approved, according to him, alternative treatments that were protecting him.
Furthermore, he had done theological research by consulting another “expert,” this one assuring him that getting the vaccine was the first step in gutting our religious freedoms, and it was possibly even the Mark of the Beast.
And then, over it all, this: “Prayer is my vaccination.”
Guess how this ends?
Then a few weeks later he’s on social media again saying that he had indeed contracted Covid-19. At first he was all, “Hey, everyone, as I said, it’s no big deal.” Between healthful living and alternative medicines and “prayer vaccine” he was going to have a quick and full recovery. “God is protecting me. I’m feeling fine.”
Until he wasn’t. Until he was in the ICU with hardware rammed into his facial orifices. Until his wife was on Facebook telling everyone that he was failing. That even if he recovered, his lungs probably were permanently damaged.
What about superior health practices and alternative treatments and “prayer vaccination”? It was as though these things had never been said. Nor was there an apology to anyone who might have followed his advice.
Now we were being urged to beg God for a spectacular miracle to pull him back from the brink of the grave.
Oh, and send money, because they were going to have some hellacious medical bills.
Jumping off the temple roof
When did this become a thing: to gamble your life (not to mention the lives of others) on God saving you from your stubborn opinions and choices, while you ignore common sense solutions?
When I was a child and exploring God’s activity in my life (I began that early, which is probably why I ended up studying theology), I remember asking my mother, “If I jump off of the top of the barn, could I just pray and God will send angels to protect me?” My mother said, “No, Ellen White calls that ‘presumption.’” “What’s presumption?” “It means doing something dumb and expecting God to rescue you.” (Thanks to Ellen White and my mother, I knew the theological concept of “presumption” before I understood the meaning of “presume”!)
The illustrative Bible passage is found in Matthew 4.
Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
If this eschewing of a proven vaccine in favor of prayer and self-prescribed remedies isn’t “putting the Lord your God to the test,” it’s hard to imagine what would be.
Ellen White is penetrating on this topic:
The sin of presumption lies close beside the virtue of perfect faith and confidence in God. … The Redeemer of the world…would not put the faithfulness and love of His Father to a needless trial, although He was in the hands of an enemy and placed in a position of extreme difficulty and peril. He would not at Satan’s suggestion tempt God by presumptuously experimenting on His providence. (Confrontation, pp 48-49)
I have seen so much of carrying matters to extremes, in praying for the sick, that I have felt that this part of our experience requires much solid, sanctified thinking, lest we shall make movements that we may call faith, but which are really nothing less than presumption… If they take the position that in praying for healing they must not use the simple remedies provided by God to alleviate pain and to aid nature in her work, lest it be a denial of faith, they are taking an unwise position. This is not a denial of faith; it is in strict harmony with the plans of God. …in doing this he neither denies nor hinders faith. (Counsels on Health, 381-382)
So don’t you dare tell me that you’re a better Christian than I am because you trusted God to protect you, while I got the “simple remedy” of a vaccine! You “tempt God by presumptuously experimenting on His providence,” and then expect God to rescue you?
Excuses and explanations
This isn’t the interpretation some will want to hear, though it is straight from the Bible and Ellen White. Some rebut that James 5:14-15 says that when sick you should call the elders to anoint you—doesn’t say anything about physicians! (Though I have yet to hear of one of these folks turning down a bed in the ICU when they’re really sick, even if it means displacing someone even sicker.)
Then they’ll quote The Ministry of Healing to the point of implying that if you follow all the health rules you’ll live nearly forever.
They’ll add that this is about their freedom of religion, because somehow the right to infect others with your germs has become a religious liberty issue.
Some stupidity is forgivable—we’re all stupid at times. But this man’s stupidity affected not just him. His stupidity influenced other stupid people. He may have infected others, some who believed as he did—and some completely innocent.
This man would still be healthy, and his wife wouldn’t have to beg for a miracle had he taken a “simple remedy” (see Ellen White quote, above) that has been used in some form for two centuries. Now they would rope the rest of us into supporting them by tugging on our sympathy.
Am I going too far in saying that this kind of intentional, self-righteous presumption, this obsession with one’s own theories that leads to suffering and death for yourself and others, will be answerable in the final judgment—as much as the more easily-condemned sins like drunkenness or theft or adultery?
“But my freedom…”
I’m tired of this one. To reframe an old saying: your freedom ends where my (breathing) nose begins. Some may have died because this man went around without a mask preaching that prayer protected him.
Think about this: there are people of whom, if we wanted to be cruel, we could say, “You refused a safe and effective prophylactic against this disease, which you then infected your elderly mother with, who died of it. You are, intentional or not, a murderer.”
But we don’t say that. We’re kinder than that. We shake our heads in puzzlement. And then we close our eyes and pray for these presumptuous people. Even if we don’t send them money, we know that they’re costing our medical system a lot. Hospitals are strained to the limits. Health care providers are dying. There is a shortage of ICU beds. We who have health insurance will pay for some of the sick through the health-care system, which will have to forgive their six-figure medical bills.
There are all kinds of demands and restrictions on us as members of a society where we have to interact. Driver’s licenses, for example, not to mention all kinds of laws. Why is your being asked to get a vaccination suddenly a denial of your religious liberty?
And why does your freedom to get sick trump my liberty not to get sick from you?
What kind of Christian are you, anyway, if you just don’t give a damn about anyone else’s life?
What this says is that a great many freedom-claiming Christians don’t understand the meaning of the cross. Imagine if Jesus had said, “I have the freedom not to die for the sins of the world. It’s just too uncomfortable, too invasive, to die for others. Let them take care of themselves.”
Should we pray for this man?
I suppose we should. We don’t want to be petty and unkind.
Though in fact, he was petty and unkind. He threw himself off the temple roof when there was a perfectly good parachute available, and expected the angels to bear him up. And when the angels didn’t, his people ask us to bear them up. They aren’t thinking now of his theories or the people who believed them, but of themselves, in crisis.
I don’t subscribe to the survival-of-the-fittest notion that stupid people should just die of their stupidity. I’d rather have him strong and healthy, at least for the sake of his wife and family. But it’s hard not to just shake your head and think, “How can I have sympathy for people who are so willfully stubborn?”
There are questions I’d like to ask people like this. Do they take any other medicines—even aspirin? Do they take normal safety precautions around home and workplace? Do they wear seatbelts, and have air-bags in their cars? Do they let their toddler stick a fork in the electrical socket? In short, just how careless are they in everyday life at God’s and their families’ expense?
Good heavens, people. I know you feel strongly about this. But your feeling strongly doesn’t make you right. This is not a harmless story with a good outcome either way. This is real people dying—needlessly. This is about thousands of medical carers getting sick because you refuse to accept a preventative medicine. This is about ICUs so packed that people have to travel hundreds of miles to get a bed.
But alas: nothing is as resistant to logic as self-righteous opinionation. Those who should be learning some common sense will condemn me instead. Look for it in the comments below. But the presumption of these supposedly superior Christians is just too astonishing to go unremarked.
A Christian man lived near a river that was flooding. The police came by and said, “Time to evacuate, sir. Hop in our truck; we’ll drive you through the deep water to safety.” “No need,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and God will save me.” The water rose, and he climbed into his second story. A man came by with a boat, got his attention at the upstairs window, and said, “Get in, I’ll take you to dry land.” “I really don’t need help,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and God will save me.” Hours later he’s sitting on the roof when a helicopter comes over and the rescuer shouts down, “Let us pull you up.” “No,” he said again. “I’m a Christian—I’m waiting for God to save me.” The water rose, the house was washed off its foundation, and the man drowned.
He finds himself at God’s judgment bar. He looks up and says, “God, I trusted you. Why didn’t you rescue me from the flood?” “Whaddaya mean?” God says, “I tried. I sent you a truck, a boat and even a helicopter.”
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.